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Doctor Who: Throwback Thursday

Chef’s Table: Food Documentary as Art

Patagonian Pit CookingMoss. Broken tart. Pickled carrots. Buttery beef from a dairy cow.

Chef’s Table, a new documentary series featured on and created by Netflix, is a thoughtful, cinematic tasting course which gives center stage to six innovative chefs from around the world. It does not promote culinary genius as a solo endeavor, however; spouses, lovers, family members, apprentices, and kitchen staff all share their considerable insights.

Chef’s Table is a contemplative, connected piece of work, which is surprisingly profound.

These artful bio-docs could arguably be shown alongside other feature-length, award-winning documentaries and be no worse for wear. In fact, I contend they’d stand up extremely well.

Each hour-long installment shines the spotlight on a chosen chef and her or his accomplishments. But beyond this is presented a veritable synesthesia of experiences: scallops are seared by the flaming staccato notes of violins—a symphonic love story directs the creation of avant-garde yet heartfelt cuisine—the silent texture as mushrooms are scraped from tree bark—a guitar piercing the flesh of river trout.

Milk Pudding with WoodruffThese are moments of sheer purity, in its most stark and beautiful sense, and they happen often over the course of the six episodes of Chef’s Table. Not only for gourmands, travel and cultural history aficionados will find much to enjoy here, as will observers of human nature and lovers of pristine natural vistas.

  1. Massimo Bottura (Modena)
  2. Dan Barber (New York, Berkshires)
  3. Francis Mallmann (Patagonia, Buenos Aires)
  4. Niki Nakayama (Los Angeles)
  5. Ben Shewry (New Zealand)
  6. Magnus Nilsson (Sweden)

Originally slated to offer only on-demand viewings of the already created, streaming services like Netflix are quickly becoming the place to find new masterful dramas and engaging comedy series. And with stunning achievements such as Chef’s Table added to the lineup, it seems documentaries have a new champion as well.

Big Finish Review: The Eighth Doctor in Sword of Orion

The Eighth Doctor Whips One Out Proper

cover of Big Finish's Sword of Orion

Big Finish Main Range #17

Sword of Orion

Marvelous! It’s only my second dip into Big Finish‘s Doctor Who audio dramas, and I am in love.

Not only is the story gripping and easy to follow, the supporting characters identifiable and memorable, but there are Cybermen! Hurrah! I figure that’s not quite a spoiler 14+ years after its release, right?

CyberYes

I don’t know if I’ve ever been so happy to stumble upon a Cyberman in a story, as I’m usually Team Dalek. ­­­Sometimes I just don’t feel the threat of Cybermen, as horrific as the conversion process is. (And yes, Daleks can be overused as well, but they’re just so cute and sassy that I still enjoy them.)

But this time, under the fierce direction (and acting) of Nicholas Briggs, the Cybermen bring genuine tension to the trapped-on-a-broken-spaceship setup.

Along with our metal villains is an interesting look at an android vs. human war going on in the area of space Charley and the Doctor are visiting. Humans –> androids –> Cybermen? Precisely why I am skeptical of biohacking.

Fill in the Blank

Speaking of Charlotte “Charley” Pollard—the Eighth Doctor’s early 20th century human Companion—how doth she fare in this second adventure, you might ask?

Relatively well. She made one particularly snarky comment that endeared her more to me.

Her background still isn’t discussed, which, in fact, bothers me—but it must come up eventually. There’s a whole arc about her disruptive place in space-time from what I’ve read, and maybe something about her parents?

Hopefully then, tidbits about her life before the Doctor will begin to be sprinkled throughout the next few adventures so it doesn’t feel abrupt or forced when we get to her big character moments.

One thing that distressed me was that the Doctor doesn’t hunt down Deeva but leaves her to be only possibly discovered—by others who may or may not have good intentions towards her.

I do understand these audio dramas are jampacked into a two hour length, sometimes less, working with only dialogue and sound effects. Which is a pretty impressive and daunting thing to think about, as a writer.

I just felt the Doctor wouldn’t have given up so easily.

Verdict

Sword of Orion is an exciting listen, which fans the flame of my hope for the rest of the Eighth Doctor’s adventures. I just heard somewhere that he takes Mary Shelley for a whirl in future stories??

I must try to listen to at least one or two a month from now on.

Book Review + Haiku: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

cover of Daughter of Smoke and BoneBook Review Haiku

Blue Karou wishes

but teeth dim with blood cannot

knit an exiled soul.

 

THANK the Gods. This is the book I was hoping to find when I picked up the dismal City of Bones a couple weeks ago.

So imaginative, so lush, well-written, and not hurried along from one overblown scene to the next. If you like good magical stories, YA lit, and/or urban fantasy/ paranormal stuff and haven’t read this, GO GET IT now. I’m still reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone and can’t wait to see where this tale flies… Also, the narrator for the audiobook is incredible and a new favorite.

Notes Upon Finishing: What a beautiful heartbreak. And if I had a tooth to wish on, I’d wish to be able to write like Laini Taylor.

In Defense of Libraries and Culture in the Middle East

A statement endorsed by the Progressive Librarians Guild

“Media coverage of the destruction of libraries and antiquities in northern Iraq during March 2015 has aroused the indignation of people around the world. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has initiated this destruction and used it in a propaganda campaign to promote its interests throughout the region. This destruction is based on its crude fundamentalist version of Islam, but that is not the whole story. There are also reports that ISIS is selling invaluable artifacts for profit.

Libraries with unique collections, with some items going back to 5000 BC, have reportedly been ransacked in Mosul, including the Mosul Central Library, the Mosul Museum Library, the Sunni Muslim Library, and the library of the Latin Church and Monastery of the Dominican Fathers. There are reports that many of the books were burned.

Archeological sites at the ancient cities of Hatra, Nimrud, and Dur-Sharrukin have reportedly been devastated. The Mosul Museum was looted during the U.S. led military invasion in 2003, but nearby residents saved many of the artifacts at that time by hiding them in their homes. According to Bagdad Museum Director Fawzye al-Mahdi, it appears that most of the recently destroyed artifacts in the Mosul Museum were actually plaster cast replicas of originals, which were moved to Bagdad in 2003. However, according to exiled Mosul Governor Atheel Nuafi, at least two were priceless originals, including the Winged Bull, which used to stand at the gates of Nineveh in the 7th century.

Progressive librarians unconditionally condemn the destruction of libraries and culture in the Middle East.

In order to understand the current situation, we need to examine recent history. In a candid March 17th interview with Shane Smith of Vice News, President Obama stated that “ISIL is a direct outgrowth of Al-Qaeda in Iraq,” and that it is an “example of unintended consequences” (https://news.vice.com/topic/isil).

Before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, Iraq was a brutal dictatorship that tortured its opponents. But it was also a stable and secular middle-income country fueled by an oil-based economy. Although women were certainly not treated as equal to men, they had considerable freedom and rights not available in many other countries in the region. But of course Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, opposition to the government was not tolerated, and freedom of speech was very limited. One consequence of the authoritarian state was that radical Islamist groups had no presence in the country.

Although the U.S. generally supported Saddam Hussein from 1979 to 1990, the situation reversed after the 1990 Gulf War when Iraq attacked and annexed Kuwait. Strict U.N. economic and other sanctions led to the death of perhaps 500,000 Iraqi children by 1996, when Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that “we think the price was worth it” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbIX1CP9qr4).

Al-Qaeda established a presence in the country only after the chaos caused by the U.S.-led invasion. The destruction and systematic dismantling of Iraq’s government and army along with the bombing of crucial infrastructure led to the recruitment of competing ethnic militias, and massive “ethnic cleansing” of both Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods and regions.

Whether boots on the ground or through drone attacks, the U.S. military is continuously making the situation worse. New extremists are created when the U.S. military kills or maims civilians or destroys their homes and livelihoods. The example of Iraq is instructive. A stable secular country without any Islamist extremists has been turned into a haven for ISIS. The destruction of libraries and culture is a direct result.

We condemn the ISIS attacks on libraries and culture, and we equally condemn U.S. wars in the Middle East and elsewhere. It is the people of the Middle East who can solve the problems of the Middle East. In the current situation, the most productive things the U.S. can do are to end all military operations in the region and to provide non-military aid and development assistance, including assistance in the rebuilding of libraries and other cultural resources.”

—Al Kagan for the PLG Coordinating Committee

Big Finish Review: The Eighth Doctor in Storm Warning

Zeppelins in Space!

cover of Big Finish's Storm Warning

Big Finish Main Range #16

My First Big Finish

For my first foray into the world of Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas, I chose Storm Warning (2001).

It was the first Big Finish production to feature the Eighth Doctor, ever so charmingly played by Mr. Paul McGann, as well as new Companion, Charlotte “Charley” Pollard, inhabited by Ms. India Fisher.

Starting at number 16 of the Main Doctor Who monthly range might seem an odd jumping off point for a first timer. Why not #1, The Sirens of Time, released almost two years prior and featuring the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors?

Why Start Here?

Alas, I must admit I am a completionist—at least about Doctor Who stories, that is.

I have seen most everything from the 1996 TV movie forward (excepting Scream of the Shalka and Dimensions in Time), but I’m still only at the very end of the First Doctor’s run as far as Classic Who is concerned. (There have been a couple of mourning pauses post-Barbara + Ian and Vicki. Oh, and one post-Susan pause of indignation.)

I can’t, in good conscience, develop a fan relationship with the Second through Seventh Doctors without first absorbing their silver screen narrative arcs. I am strangely concerned with following the proper timelines of a show largely about time travel and disrupted timelines. Go figure.

Beyond that, though, is the fan wisdom that the Eighth Doctor is the perfect bridge between Classic and New Who.

With this, I must agree. If you’ve only started watching Doctor Who since the 2005 revival but would like to test-drive some audio stories—start with the Eighth Doctor. His stories will be modern enough in tone yet still exciting because, well, it’s a new Doctor to discover!

Storm Warning

As far as an introduction goes, this one is pretty unremarkable.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s fine. The plot’s all over the place, a few side characters are noticeable caricatures (Rathbone, Tamworth), and we barely learn anything about Ms. Charley Pollard, the Doctor’s new companion, other than she was craving adventure in her presumably patrician life. But it’s entertaining enough.

I adore dirigibles, and the setting of pre-WWII Europe casts a lovely sepia feel over the story.

The Doctor is well written and his conversations suitably quick and lively. Though I’d have liked more background on Charley, she definitely comes across as someone I could see traveling with the Doctor—fast on her feet and insatiably curious.

Being a historicals fan, this should be right up my alley; the R101 was a real airship of the British Empire that tragically crashed on its maiden voyage over France. I find there’s a lack of real emotional tension, however, and I am not at all convinced by the aliens, the Triskele. (Are they Celtic Reconstructionists?)

I do not feel threatened by them one bit, nor am I worried for the Doctor or Charley or anyone else.

Alien Sympathies

Actually, no—I am concerned for two characters: Ramsay the Vortisaur, and the alien passenger, Engineer Prime.

Both of these creatures’ portrayals elicit more sympathy and emotional investment, I believe, because their stories are fraught with misunderstandings and persecution based on their appearance and status as an “other.”

And based upon how shitty the humans in Storm Warning treat them. Hell, Ramsay is basically a time vortex pterodactyl who flies around and bites a lot, no lines other than screeches, and yet I was so thrilled at the end he was going to get home.

The same with the Engineer Prime. So glad he got out of captivity and away from being a pawn of the British Empire.

I had no such enthusiasm, good or bad, for the other characters’ destinies. Of course, I was happy the Doctor was unscathed, although we pretty much knew he would be, this being his very first story (in this format) after all.

As for Charley, I liked her well enough, or really felt rather neutral towards her. I can only assume her characterization becomes more layered as her story progresses. This I heartily look forward to.

Verdict

Overall, this is a breezy, milquetoast beginning to what I hope becomes a glorious run of Eighth Doctor adventures.

Doctor Who Bucket List

I’m a rather newishFire Poi fan of Doctor Who—got my start mid-2012 when I was dealing with some heavy emotional stuff and needed a distraction. What a distraction it was! :-) I instantly fell in love with the dramatic yet not-too-serious story arcs, the character of the Doctor, the non-technical (sometimes hand-wavey) science, and the TARDIS’ capability of traveling through both time and space, time travel always being a particular favorite of mine.

And while I quickly got caught up and current with the new series and 1996 movie, I only started to watch Classic Who earlier this year. What a delight! I quickly came to adore Barbara and Ian and am quite fond of Vicki and William Hartnell’s First Doctor. I’m still only on the third season (1965) but have realized I now have an ever-developing bucket list of Doctor Who-related items.

Doctor Who Bucket ListThe Next Doctor's Air Balloon Tardis

Actually quite a truncated list, no? The above are all things I believe I could reasonably accomplish. Writing an official novel or script, meeting William Russell, Jenna Coleman, Catherine Tate, John Barrowman, any of the Doctors… well, those are dreams which may or may not be Dream Crab-induced. The pics above are a couple things on my non-Who-related bucket list.

I’d love to hear what’s on your Doctor Who Bucket List!